Perfect timing for 'Dracula'

As All Hallows Eve looms on the horizon, thoughts of things that go bump in the night disturb our slumber and cause us to question what we believe to be real.

Was that just the wind? Is it cold in here? Have I gone mad?

Of all the literary icons that stir our psyches at this time each year, there is perhaps none so hypnotic as Bram Stoker's "Dracula," the mysterious Carpathian who uses his sensual powers to dominate the women of Victorian England.

Written in 1897, Stoker's Dracula was a romanticized horror tale with strong sexual overtones and breathtaking violence that haunts, long after the story concludes. In its current production, the University of Illinois Department of Theatre presents a contemporary adaptation of Stoker's classic work by Scottish writer Liz Lochhead, which strives to empower women and to expose the varying conflicts of society while seducing audiences with a tale of forbidden desires.

As Lucy Westerman grows increasingly ill, her desperate fiance Dr. Arthur Seward calls in an expert — his former teacher Dr. Van Helsing — to determine the source of her suffering. Once Van Helsing determines that the girl has been visited by the vampire count, he sets the course for finding his nemesis and destroying him once and for all.

Directed by Tom Mitchell, this production is a visual masterpiece, with impressive costumes by Liz Rowe and brilliant lighting by Kevin Pelz that was quite stunning in its theatricality.

J.W. Morrissette as Count Dracula is bold and commanding, with a slight hint of camp that was perhaps meant as an homage to all the great Draculas that have gone before him. Neal Moeller, as the vampire hunter Van Helsing, adds a bit of whimsy to his otherwise authoritarian character, which served to ease some of the evening's darker elements.

Brian Zielnicki is appropriately disturbing as the schizophrenic Renfield, who succumbs to the will of his master, the count, for no one would heed his warnings.

At nearly three hours, this production's pace often lagged, which seemed to lessen the impact it could have imparted. Adding to that distraction, it was often quite difficult to hear, which frustrated some audience members.

Still overall, the production succeeds in giving a new spin on a timeless tale. With some violent and suggestive moments, however, this may not be appropriate for younger or more sensitive patrons.

 

If you go

What: University of Illinois Department of Theatre presents "Dracula," adapted for the stage by Liz Lochhead, based on the Bram Stoker novel, directed by Tom Mitchell, associate head of the department

Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes with a 20-minute intermission

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 3 p.m. Oct. 21

Where: Colwell Playhouse, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U

Tickets: $16 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for UI students and youths high school age and younger (tickets are two for the price of one on Thursdays)

More info: 333-6280; http://www.krannertcenter.com

Tricia Stiller serves as director for the McLean County Diversity Project's Theatre Program, the Miller Park Summer Theatre Program and the Penguin Project McLean County. She can be contacted at triciastiller@msn.com.

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